Sunday, October 10, 2004

Monty Alexander photo courtesy Dennis Owsley

So. How ya been?

Yes, yes; I know. I've been derelict in my musical doodies. If it makes you feel any better, my guilt has been downright crippling, on the real. I haven't had unscheduled Hut downtime in over eight months, but I been: sleepin' + workin' + refocussing. A little personal time was necessary to recharge. Apologies, but necessary.

On the positive, it's a meaty and wondrous three song Monday with some neighbor meetin' ta boot!

First tho', you can find my last Soul-Stirring contribution to O's Hut du Soul at the prior link, but it's past time for US to put a period on the wonder that was

glisten: Soul Hut 5 (better nate dogg than lever soap)

Monty Alexander - "Love and Happiness"

O sez: Not only is this one of my favorite Al Green songs, but the way Monty Alexander (along with Ernest Ranglin) approach it is so amazing in nodding both to the original yet transforming the song. Some hip-hop heads will pick up on the various samples in here but really, the song is so much more than that. Ranglin's guitar work is absolutely gorgeous and Alexander's choice to use an electric piano is perfect, giving the song a vibe and character that couldn't have been possible with an acoustic. This is like joy transmuted into a song.

J sez: O's done unearthed some rare metal here; this is a difficult album to find on vinyl at any price and was apparently never reissued.... but if this is indicative of the general quality level, you gotta ask WHY NOT? As far as covers go, it's difficult to imagine a more cunning reimagining; Green's original is painful in a JB "Please, Please, Please" way, where the singer's soul is bulging out the eyeballs but Alexander has changed that agony into cool blue ecstacy. This cover is more of a shared bowl being passed than a missed opportunity lost, yet the heart is still there! The interpolation of "It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing" kills me, the guitar sashays with headbobbin glee and the keys are langourous and fatty like pork in collard greens. K-lassic.

Visit Alexander's official site.
Read this interview with Alexander via Jazz Review.

Whew! What a tough act to follow! I'll have to drop two tracks just to live up to the promise of that one.

Pat Rhoden - "Living for the City"

Chosen Few - "I Second That Emotion"

J sez: Rhoden's take on "Living" sounds more an urban chaingang chorus than Stevie's protest song.

The lead vocalist on the Chosen Few track has such a tenuous hold on these highwire soprano parts that it's exciting watching him grasp for the notes.

Both of these tracks come from the three disc "Trojan Soulful Reggae Box Set", which you can buy from Amazon for under twenty five bucks.
There's only about a ZILLION of these Trojan sets, so why get this one? Well, it isn't going to make you throw away any of the originals (O is right; the Ken Booth "Let's Get It On" IS pretty poor) but it is a pretty solid selection of soul covers done up in dreads at a very reasonable price... and don't you want to hear the reggae version of "Kung Fu Fighting"? No? Really?

SOUL HUT has been a HECKUBALOTTA fun and I'd like to thank O-Dub again for the loan of the material (and his patience).

Hey, have I HIGHLY recommend lately that you guys make Soul Sides a daily stop for more excellence of this variety? Lord knows all the COOL kids are already there... don't you want to be COOOOOOOL?

Meeting the Neighbors

Byron Bitchlaces (previously "Tyrone Shoelaces") has been a regular read from the very beginning. Rocking "world music" in the truest sense, Laces is forever dropping wonders of all types with only one connecting thread: it gotta have soul. It's also one of the very few musicblogs that steps up with a compelling personal saga, so you gets some solid Singapore Slangin' too.

Recent offerings include tunage from Red Astaire, Emmylou Harris, Lady Saw and Geto Boys.

So can I get you a Stripe, man? Pull up a chair and kick up your feet. What's your deal?

I think I probably fit the classic music blogger demographic – late 20s male working in a non-music field but with a lifelong music obsession. As to why anybody should be interested in me, there's no particular reason, but any reason there is would be there on the site.
What makes my blog different, I think, is that I have relatively little focus on the music itself in what I write. I mostly just jot down stories about what's happened to me recently, or things I'm thinking about and tag on the music that I'm feeling at that point in time so that people can download it.
So I think my site is more personal (and self-indulgent) than many of the others that are out there, but it's mostly done for personal reasons so that's fine. There are always two sides to dealing with music – personal and public. You can never be anything other than personal in your approach, but there is a choice to be made in whether you are overt about that or not, and I'm happy to be overtly personal. I don't think my picks necessarily make much sense and I'm not sure I can explain them either.
Where did the name of your blog originate from?
As I said I'm a lifelong music obsessive, and as somebody who was a teenager in the 90s that led neatly into wanting to be a DJ. I used to have this Cheech and Chong record with a skit on it about "Tyrone Shoelaces the midget basketball player" which I would use as an intro record, and therefore I used "Tyrone Shoelaces" as a DJ name.
I also used it as an online alias. A few years later I became involved in an online community with an interest in fictional identities and where it was common for people to change their name or "fiction suit" regularly. So I used to change mine to reflect different characters, but always kept the "-laces" at the end. Hence "Byron Bitchlaces".
What are the criteria that decide whether a song is post-worthy?
That's a real dilemma at the moment, actually. I feel that the mp3 blog as a format has to add something to the music – you can't just be supplying tracks for free – you should be either bringing music to wider notice, or making people look at music in a different way. I'm struggling to try and think of a way to do the latter.
Do you have a favourite music critic?
I've an infinite amount of respect for Matt Woebot as somebody who can write about his personal perspective on music in a way that others can empathise with, which to me is the key trick to music criticism. There are other people out there who are more "zeitgeist" and there are others whose personal taste is more in sync with mine, but he is always a joy to read because he brings to life what music means to him.
Do you consider yourself a music journalist?
No, definitely not. I'm not professional enough about what I do, and, more importantly, I don't get pleasure out of writing about music. What I do get pleasure out of is playing music for others to hear, which is what the blog format allows me to do, albeit at one remove.
What was the last track you heard that really changed your life?
Dizzee Rascal – "Respect Me".
I was feeling very down and very kicked around by work and life in general and this track pulled me right back to my teenage years and that fierce hunger to be recognized as someone to be dealt with on the level. "I'm gonna make you respect me, you people are gonna respect me if it KILLS YOU." And it made me wonder where that feeling had gone that I was prepared to put up with some aspects of my working life, and to therefore decide that I've had enough of working in Advertising and need to try something new…
Describe the space you do your writing in?
After 8pm, after a couple of glasses, after listening to music, after reflecting on the last week but before thinking about it too thoroughly.
Is there any genre of music that you dismiss out of hand?
I'm becoming so much more tolerant. Ask me this question ten years ago and I would've said "anything not made on computers by black people" or something equally asinine. Nowadays I enjoy pretty much everything except indie rock and even then there are a couple of exceptions like Cat Power or Ted Leo.
Are you much of a dancer?
Hell yes. That's my primary relationship with music right there. I've danced in every country I've ever visited, in clubs, in fields, in forests and on mountains and on boats. I used to occasionally get compliments on my style, but not anymore. Last weekend some girl referred to my dancing as "almost falling over but not quite". That's what happens when you make the shift from powders and pills to spirits and mixers. I do stick to the beat, but am chronically over-ambitious, put it that way…
Is there a major flaw in the way musicblog sites function that you'd like to see corrected?
There is a certain type of musicblog that I'd like to see less of, and that's sites which post large numbers of mp3s without much writing. I think that goes against the spirit of the thing. There is so much damn music out there that it's impossible to listen to it all, and you can go mad trying. Blogs are useful filters – they lift the exceptional apart from the detritus. I think Fluxblog has this down pat – you can't define his style, but he has one, and he'll only ever post one or two songs but they're all "on brand" and they're all worth a listen.
But frankly, I think it's natural selection. It's just like any other brand in an open market – the ones that are clearly defined and stick to what they do best will be popular, and the ones which don't won't.
Do you really think posting music effectively promotes sales of the album?
It may, but I don't think that's the point. What it does do is promote the artist. What I see happening in the music industry is not a shift from physical media (like vinyl and cds) to digital media, but a shift from revenue being generated by recordings to revenue being generated by performance and licensing, and promoting the visibility of an artist certainly contributes to these sources of income.
As surely as discotheques killed live dance music, digital media and piracy will kill recorded music as a revenue stream.
But I see that as an enormously positive shift because it is a shift in power away from the record industry and towards the artist.
And what I mean by that is that I don't think that stopping spending money on recorded music means that people will stop spending money on music. If you get recorded music for free, and more of it than you know what to do with, you begin to crave closer contact with that music and want to hear it in clubs and in concerts – psychologically we adapt very quickly to take what we have for granted and to want more – that's why absolute material wealth has no impact on happiness – it's only the comparative that counts.
If you add this effect to the increasing involvement of big brands with music and the money that pumps into it through sponsorship and licensing and deals like Pepsi-iTunes, I don't see musicians starving to death any time soon.
Are you a proud member of the iPod nation?
Hell no. Do you realize how much secondhand vinyl you can get for the price of one of those things?
Do you someday hope to make a living with something music or internet related?
I'd love that. However my cello teacher memorably told me, aged 14, after my dad had been forking out for lessons for over 8 years, that I had no talent whatsoever and there was no point in my continuing.
Similarly, much as I love to DJ, I'm under no illusions as to my technical ability. I think, as a DJ, I'm certainly unconventional and unusual in my approach, but that doesn't necessarily translate into dancefloor devastation. Being a really good DJ requires a level of ego sacrifice that I'm not sure I'm capable of.
However my not-so-secret dream is to someday run a nightclub with a vibe as good as, and a legacy as long-lasting as David Mancuso's Loft.
Make a ten-song mixtape based on the theme of "Time machine"

1. TKA – "Give your love to me"
2. Colonel Abrams – "Trapped" (dub mix)
3. ESP – "Lets move"
4. Kenny Dope – "Jam the Mace"
5. Cover Girls – "Hooked on you" (Diamond dub mix)
6. Strafe – "Set it off" (Walter Gibbons mix)
7. Drum and Bass – "I love you"
8. Omar Santana and the Brooklyn Bandits – "Do what you want"
9. Professor of acid – "Drug store"
10. Inner City – "Til we meet again"

This selection because I'm fascinated by the cyclic nature of dance music, in particular by the sounds that people choose NOT to recycle – like the singing style from TKA, Colonel Abrams and the Cover Girls or the rigid drum programming from "Jam the mace" or "Do what you want". Basically all of these records sound fantastically dated now, but if you can get past that they're still great records, with loads of unique features and unexpected surprises. Number 9 is the anomaly, being a record you could easily play in a club today, but you can't be too rigid about these things.
Do you ever get obsessive about collecting music?
Lets just say my company had to pay over a grand to move me out to Singapore because I wasn't prepared to leave my vinyl collection in the UK.
Who's your favourite producer?
I have a real soft spot for Omar Santana, which is kind of hard for me to justify, because a lot of his stuff is kinda hack-work. But he's worked in many of my favourite styles – he started out in Latin Freestyle, dabbled in house and then went on to produce Gabba (and also to invent "hard hop" but we can skirt over that). Which is a pretty bizarre resume. But when he's on form there is a woozy fuckedupness to the rhythm programming that I find incredibly compelling. It shouldn't make sense, but it does, and you can trace it through all of his different guises.
What makes you so goddamn smart?
I have a healthy understanding of hypocrisy and disingenuousness due to being able to simultaneously pursue leftist activism and a career in advertising for a number of years, so even if I am lying it'll be extraordinarily plausible.
Drop on by betterPropaganda and pick out a track to hype.

Diplo – "Diplo Rhythm"

I think Diplo is a really healthy development. I'm glad to see that things have progressed to the point where somebody can play current commercial hip hop to a hipster audience. He also deserves credit for raising the profile of baile funk, another fantastic development. This track chucks 3-4 exciting, current musical styles in a blender and doesn't end up sounding awful, an achievement in itself. If that sounds like damning with faint praise, it's not meant to be – this is a DJ's record – it's all about mixing things together and that feels the only way to write about it.


If today's triple play isn't enough for you, I have a fairly lengthy new post up over at M4Robots on the aforementioned Katamari Damacy; fans of electronic and J-Pop should hustle over and snag these hot tracks from the game, stat!